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5th October 2014

Global Economy & Global Real Estate

Li Ka Shing bullish on 'disruptive' tech start-ups

Source: Straits Times / News

Tycoon Li Ka Shing has made his billions, but invests in innovative tech start-ups because of their "prescient value" - the ability to show what new things will emerge tomorrow.

"We are now in a data-driven, talent-centric economy where the word 'disrupt' has become a movement," said Mr Li, 86.

This movement combines emerging technologies to create new businesses for profit as well as a focused purpose to change the world.

"So the first thing I gather through my exchanges with young founders is to let go of my presumptions and stereotypes and enjoy the awesomeness of their propositions," he told The Sunday Times in an e-mail interview from Hong Kong where he lives.

His Li Ka Shing Foundation and its venture capital partner Horizons Ventures will co-organise a half-day event called Techcracker on Tuesday to discuss disruptive technologies.

It will be held at the National University of Singapore and the other co-organisers are local venture capital firm Vertex Venture Holdings and NUS Enterprise, the university's entrepreneurship arm.

Seven start-ups from the United States, Israel, Canada, England and Switzerland will showcase their technologies, varying from plant-based meat and leather to brain-sensing headbands for managing stress.

Mr Li is the world's 19th richest person, according to Forbes magazine. He has an estimated US$31 billion (S$40 billion) fortune built from established Hong Kong companies like Hutchison Whampoa and Cheung Kong Holdings.

He has also gained from investing in digital upstarts like Facebook, Skype and Summly. The investments were made through Horizons Ventures with funds from his foundation.

According to a Forbes article last March, Horizons and Mr Li have invested US$350 million in different start-ups.

He told The Sunday Times they actively support only 50 start-ups at any given time and he focuses on disruptive tech start-ups with potential to create an impact on industries.

"I often meet very passionate young founders. They are gutsy and dare to see a future that is quite different from the past," he said.

"We need to learn how to be flexible to 'capture' and leverage their energy and find a way to infuse it into our mature operations and markets."

Asked if he saw an Asian Silicon Valley taking shape, he said: "I don't think anyone has a ready answer because it is simply impossible to predict the future.

"Many governments claim to be mobilising resources behind technological and innovative initiatives, but such efforts often get bogged down by bureaucracy and fail even to galvanise their own to embrace innovation."

He quoted early 20th-century French writer and poet Antoine de Saint-Exupery who said: "If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea."

Mr Li added: "I think this is really the crux of the matter. How do you inspire society to yearn for the sea? When you achieve this, a Silicon Valley can appear anywhere."

He will make a special video broadcast at Techcracker's opening on Tuesday. The guest of honour for the event is Minister in the Prime Minister's Office S. Iswaran, who is also Second Minister for Trade and Industry and Second Minister for Home Affairs.

NUS president Tan Chorh Chuan said Mr Li is a visionary leader and strong supporter of entrepreneurship and the university supports his vision of building a sustainable and responsible future through the creation and adoption of disruptive technologies.

-By Grace Chng, Senior Correspondent

Plans for Sydney housing without carparks

Controversial proposal sparks anger but NSW govt says move will help cut up to $56k from property prices

Source: Straits Times / News

Soaring property prices and growing traffic congestion in Sydney have prompted a controversial proposal to allow apartment buildings to be built without any parking spaces for cars. 

The move in some areas of the sprawling, car- dependent city has triggered anger, with critics saying Sydney's public transport is not good enough and many people will be left with cars for which they are unable to find places to park.

The proposal was introduced by the state government of New South Wales, which said Sydney's 4.8 million residents are increasingly giving up on using cars and opting for walking, public transport or cycling. 

It said the changes will help to cut up to A$50,000 (S$55,700) from property prices.

"A car space can add up to A$50,000 to the cost of a new apartment, so providing more flexibility around car parking requirements could lead to savings of up to the same amount for homebuyers," the state's planning minister, Ms Pru Goward, said in a statement. 

The proposal was set out in a new development planning guide released last month by the state's Department of Environment and Planning.  

The guide said an increasingly number of people in Sydney - particularly those under the age of 35 - are no longer using cars.

Government data showed that the proportion of 25-year-olds in the state with a driver's licence has dropped from 84 per cent to 74 per cent between 1998 and 2009.

The proposal would apply to new developments within 400m of transport hubs such as railway stations, bus interchanges and light rail stops.

The rules would not apply to the entire city but to 22 designated council areas, which are mainly densely populated and in the inner city.

But the proposal in this city of badly connected public transport services drew a mixed response. 

An expert on geography and urban housing, Dr Louise Crabtree, from the University of Western Sydney, told The Sunday Times: "Trips from the outer suburbs to the city (CBD) are very hard to make without a car.

"Until we address that, it will be very hard to get people out of their cars."

Currently, the number of parking spaces required per apartment is typically set by local councils.

Many councils require one off-street space per apartment, plus a number of overflow spots for visitors. 

The proposal prompted anger from some of the ruling coalition's own MPs, who said it would not ease congestion but will force people to park on the street or at parking stations.

"If people buy an apartment without parking, what will happen is people will just park around the corner," state MP Ray Williams told Sydney's Daily Telegraph.  

"It is just shifting the problem to someone else."

But property developers and some architects welcomed the cost reduction for new developments, noting that building underground parking is often the most expensive part of construction costs.

Mr Chris Johnson, the chief executive of an organisation that represents developers, the Urban Taskforce, which helped develop the guidelines, said the market should be allowed to decide how many spaces are necessary for each new development.

Dr Crabtree suggested a compromise could be to include parking spaces reserved for the city's increasingly popular shared car schemes.

The government has invited public submissions on the proposal until the end of this month.

-By Jonathan Pearlman For The Sunday Times in Sydney